Stepping into the railway arch theatre at Southwark Playhouse, you know you are in for something a little bit different with Tangram Theatre Company's latest production. Confronted with a live band, the night I attended playing incredibly tight early rock and roll covers, I'm pretty sure the lights - the only lights on the rig - got brighter when the actors made their way on stage, making the space feel even starker.
This production of Fuente Ovejuna is the theatre of t-shirts and trainers, where actors become characters because we are told so, not because of costume changes or effects. This is an interesting way to tackle the story of a civic uprising in 15th-century Andalusia, but the cast are playful enough to carry off paper-crowned, TV host royalty and the herding of stuffed toy sheep.
What emerges is strangely engaging: actors sit amongst the audience, at one point the entire show is moved through to the bar for a "secret meeting". Although we are warned quite directly at the beginning of the play that this may be that "interactive theatre" thing which we've all heard so much about, this is not the scary varietal of that much in vogue art form - where as an audience member you feel like you are being asked to do most of the performing because the actors can't be bothered or that's the "concept". Instead the audience join two characters at their wedding and are invited to dance our way through the interval in celebration, and we feel as compelled as the villagers to cover up the lynching of the Fernan Gomez de Guzman because we ourselves took part, albeit with a water balloons.
Music features heavily in the production, and the audience participation continued here. It is a brave company that bastardise Dolly Parton's "9 til 5" into "Dawn til Dusk" and send an actor in front an audience expecting them to be taken seriously. Tangram pull it off though, in a slightly tongue in cheek fashion, working their way through a number of popular tunes including tunes from the like of the Flaming Lips, sparking a bout of community singing in the audience at the performance I attended.
Billed as "a pastoral tragicomedy with songs, romance and lynching", this interpretation of Lope De Vega's classic features some strong performances, notably Hannah Boyde as Laurencia. Richard Cunningham also does a fantastic job of portraying the wolf amongst flock.
There may have been times where I worried that the cheeky delivery had diluted the casts' ability to bring real drama to some of the more intense scenes, however these were mostly overcome. A lively and different evening of theatre which breaths an energetic life into this 1614 Spanish play, Tangram again show themselves to be fantastic story tellers.